9 Tips For Creating A Healthy Relationship With Food This Christmas
More often than not, the way we feel about our bodies can impact our relationship with food.
If you are focused on ‘fixing’ your body, it is likely you are engaging in restrictive or disordered eating behaviours. If you are a chronic dieter or have a complicated relationship with food, chances are you find this time of year overwhelming and stressful.
With the main event of the holiday season generally revolving around food, either a large lunch or dinner feast (sometimes even both!), we are encouraged to indulge during the holidays. We’re also told to enjoy our meals in moderation and reminded not to forget our diets – it’s all rather complicated!
Food plays a big role in the celebrations, which means it can possibly bring up feelings of guilt and shame for some of us (eg. overindulging, eating ‘forbidden’ foods, feeling out of control around food). If this is the case, you may find yourself feeling triggered to engage in dieting behaviours during or after the holiday period.
In addition to the internal pressure to restrict and limit our food intake, we may have to deal with external influences too. There might be diet talk at the table from other family members, chatter about food rules, pressure to eat more or less and even comments about your own or other’s food choices.
Here are my top 9 tips to help you survive, thrive and create a healthy relationship with food this Christmas:
1. Avoid labelling food
Be mindful of the way you are talking about food (eg. labelling certain foods as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘naughty’, ‘junk’). Creating a morally neutral approach to food will enable you to enjoy all kinds of foods without the guilt or shame attached. Remember, you are not a good or bad person for choosing to eat (or not eat) certain foods.
TIP: If your lunch/dinner company are having conversation about bad foods, ask them if food is mouldy, burnt, or inedible? If not – it’s not a bad food! Do they feel guilty for eating too much dessert? Ask them if they stole it or stole money to get that food. If not, there is no reason to feel guilty – you haven’t hurt anyone or committed a crime! Eating dessert is not a crime.
2. Check-in with your intentions
Before sitting down to lunch/dinner, ask yourself “am I eating this because I want to or because I am following food rules?”, if it’s the latter, take a moment to check in with yourself and give yourself permission to eat the foods you feel like.
3. Avoid weighing food and counting calories
Weighing food and counting calories is not natural, it is a form of dieting behaviour. If you have been engaging in this behaviour for quite awhile, it can definitely be challenging to let it go and may require ongoing support. If you are finding it difficult, try it for just one day, or even just one meal – it may not seem like much but I assure you its a huge step.
TIP: If you use a tracking app on your phone/smart watch, delete the app or remove your device from the room to resist temptation.
4. Eat regularly
Make sure you are eating regularly throughout the day. If you skip a meal for the purpose of overindulging, you are more likely to end up bingeing. Cue the feelings of guilt, shame and remorse. Give yourself permission to eat if your body is hungry and begin to trust your body’s hunger signals.
5. It's okay to overindulge
It’s incredibly common to eat a little (or a lot) more than what our bodies necessary feel like – especially during Christmas when food may be plentiful. Be kind and compassionate to yourself if you find you do overindulge.
Most importantly, you don’t need to restrict the next day or compensate with calorie-burning exercise to make up for what you ate. I wrote these little reminders in a blog post last Christmas and I still think they’re relevant.
It’s okay if you overindulge – it’s one day of the year.
It’s okay if you’re a little bloated – it will pass (literally).
It’s okay if you gain a little weight – our weight fluctuates all the time, not just at Christmas!
6. Your choices don't always have to be the most nutritious option
This is important every day of the year not just Christmas – it’s absolutely okay to eat certain types of food because you like the taste of it, rather than its nutrition value. More often than not, restricting a certain type of food or food group results in bingeing or overeating.
7. Be mindful
– What does is taste like? Is it bitter, sweet, sour?
8. Remove the guilt and shame from emotional eating
If you find this time of year challenging and are using food as a way to cope with your emotions, go easy on yourself. Sometimes emotional eating is the only we know how to soothe ourselves. Occasional emotional eating is a fairly common human reaction so let go of the guilt and shame (it only makes things worse – trust me!).
In saying that though, if it is something you are using to numb your emotions on a regular basis, it’s a great idea to reach out for a help from a trusted loved one, GP, therapist or coach.
9. Listen to your body
This one is easier said than done – especially if you have spent a long time dieting and engaging in restrictive and bingeing behaviours. Start small by practicing checking in with your body before and after meals. Use the mindfulness tips above and pause in the middle of the meal to check in with how you are feeling.
If you are suffering from an eating disorder, your current relationship with food may make it difficult to tune into your hunger and fullness signals. I encourage you to reach out to a dietitian that specialising in eating disorders for further support.
This time of year is largely centred around happiness and joy. It’s the time to be festive, merry, catch up with loved ones or to just take some time out. It’s certainly not the time to be fixated on the pressures and challenges of food, so I hope these tips help you to steer away from making it the main focus of your day.
Try and enjoy yourself and don’t let the negative thoughts and feelings about food and/or your body take over the day!
Do you have your own strategies to help you deal with food anxiety these holidays? Let me know in the comments below.